In the spirit of this site, I now offer another “Best of” list, this time a lineup of players I would want, were I assembling a defensive dream team. The number of Gold Gloves won by each player is listed next to their name in parentheses.
P- Greg Maddux (18) – Far and away the best defensive pitcher in the history of the game. After Jim Kaat, who earned 16 Gold Gloves, the next best-pitcher has half as many Gold Gloves as Maddux.
C- Johnny Bench (10) – Ivan Rodriguez has more Gold Gloves, but Bench handled better pitching staffs.
1B- Keith Hernandez (11) – He has the most Gold Gloves of any first baseman and also had 2182 hits and a .296 lifetime batting average. Hernandez never got more than about 11% of the vote for the Hall of Fame and dropped off the ballot after 2004, but could be a good candidate eventually for the Veterans Committee.
2B- Ryne Sandberg (9) – This was a toss up between Sandberg, Bill Mazeroski and Roberto Alomar. I initially wanted to go with Mazeroski who was elected to the Hall of Fame a few years ago largely on the strength of his defense (that and hitting the winning home run in Game Seven of the 1960 World Series.) I re-evaluated after seeing that Sandberg and Alomar had better, almost identical numbers. I’m going with Sandberg, I guess, because I like him more than Alomar who seemed like something of a jerk.
SS- Ozzie Smith (13) – This, on the other hand, was no contest. Smith did backflips along with all sorts of other acrobatics, has the most Gold Gloves of any shortstop and redefined the position. He wasn’t called The Wizard for nothing.
3B- Brooks Robinson (16) – Another simple pick. Who else was I going to choose, Mike Schmidt? Highlight films were invented for guys like Robinson (and Smith.)
OF- Willie Mays (12), Roberto Clemente (12), Larry Walker (7) – Mays and Clemente were easy choices. Mays probably has two or three of the all-time best catches in baseball history from his perch in center field, and Clemente won an equal number of Gold Gloves, with a cannon arm in right field. I struggled to pick a leftfielder, though, and ultimately went with a second rightfielder, Walker. My rationale? I once saw Walker throw out a slow-footed Tim Wakefield at first from right. In my opinion, right field is the toughest position in the outfield– anyone who plays there needs a great arm. Any good rightfielder can do just fine in left, where defensive liabilities often wind up. This was the case with Bonds late in his career, though as a young player, he was lights out in left.
Bench: Pre-steroids Bonds (8), Pre-injured Ken Griffey Jr. (10), Omar Vizquel (11), Rodriguez (13)